Barksdale English

Noel Rankin, service department manager at Precision Camera, works Wednesday around second-hand gear the store recently purchased. Precision Camera may be affected by a new city ordinance requiring stores to register certain second-hand goods.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Austin City Council is considering an ordinance that would require secondhand stores in Austin to file their transactions with the Austin Police Department in an attempt to reduce property crime.

Barksdale English, spokesman for Austin City Council member Bill Spelman, said this ordinance would apply to stores in the jewelry, clothing, electronics and auto industries.

“The ordinance will ask retailers of secondhand goods to register with the city and document all secondhand products that they buy from individuals,” English said. “Retailers would also be required to keep certain types of products in their inventory for a week to 10 days.”

He said Austin City Council members hope this ordinance will lead to decreased sales of stolen items in secondhand stores and a reduction in property crime.

“The idea here is to create a database of secondhand products that the Austin Police Department can search during a property crime investigation,” English said. “If a stolen item is found in the database within the required holding period, APD can then recover that item and learn more about who sold it and when.”

He said this ordinance will help APD locate criminals and make it harder for thieves to operate in Austin.

“It is important to give APD as many effective tools as possible to combat our persistent property crime issues in the city,” English said. “Statistics indicate that about 50 percent of the property crime committed in the city is perpetrated by about 10 percent of the thieves working here. If we can reduce the number of vendors they can sell their stolen goods to then we’re cutting off an important revenue stream for them.“

Gregg Burger, general manager of Precision Camera, said the store already submits a record to the city of their used equipment purchases.

“We send them our information once a month anyway and we have to wait seven days to sell anything that has a serial number,” Burger said. “We will now have to submit this to an online database.”

Burger said his store’s policy has helped track down criminals and thinks the city-wide implementation of the policy will help victims of theft.

“I think it’s fine,” Burger said. “It’s going to help recover a lot of stolen goods from people.”

Glenn Paul, spokesman for Plato’s Closet in Austin, said he sees this ordinance as a negative step towards greater regulation of his business.

“We often put items out for sale the same day that they are bought,” said Paul. “Holding items for 10 days would be a tremendous extra cost for our business.”

Paul said he thinks the ordinance is mainly targeted towards highly trafficked items that have tracking numbers such as jewelry and audio equipment. However, he will be concerned if the regulations begin to trickle down into his business.

Paul said the corporate offices for Plato’s Closet have noticed similar ordinances in other cities and warned him to be aware of these types of regulations.

“Nobody wants to be in the position of selling stolen items,” said Paul. “But I am not sure what kind of benefit this is going to have in the used clothing market.”

Printed on Thursday, February 16, 2012 as: Rule may help lower property crime

City council members debated potential cuts to the Austin Police Department on Monday during the first reading and review of the 2012 city budget.

Council members discussed and proposed amendments to individual line items on the budget throughout the day, and a second reading will take place Tuesday at City Hall. The original budget lifted $3 million from the police force by delaying cadet class schedules and reducing overtime for sworn personnel. Council members voted to conduct a study of police force utilization after much debate about additional cutbacks to APD proposed by council member Bill Spelman. While the original budget made room to hire 47 new police force members, Spelman proposed the number be decreased to 31.

“Essentially [the study] is going to look at what are our community’s goals in terms of public safety, how we are currently using our officers to meet those goals and what changes we should take to more effectively use the resources we have,” said Barksdale English, policy aide for Spelman.

The city currently maintains a ratio of two police officers per 1,000 Austin residents. English said the results of the study could establish the current ratio as sufficient or indicate a need for more or less police force members. City officials do not yet have a time line for when the study will take place, he said.

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo debated the idea of cutting police officers during the budget reading, stating a decrease in officers would produce a negative outcome.

Austin Police Association president Wayne Vincent agreed.

Vincent said he feels APD currently operates at minimum capacity, and he believes making further reductions based on a “theoretical study” would be a great mistake.

“The more visible the police are, the less crime there is,” Vincent said. “It’s been proven time and again.”

Vincent said possible cuts to APD could also place strain on the UT Police Department.

UT Police Chief Robert Dahlstrom said both police departments work together as necessary, but cuts to APD police numbers may not directly affect the UT campus and surrounding areas.

“If they were cutting back on those officers assigned to this area then it could affect us,” Dahlstrom said. “It will certainly affect the city as a whole though. When you cut back on officers, some of that crime will have to be prioritized.”

Dahlstrom said lower crime activities, such as graffiti or minor thefts, may not be followed up on if police officers are taking care of higher priorities. Dahlstrom said he hopes, however, that more crime would not be encouraged because of the lack of attention to these areas or less visible police patrol.

Printed on September 13, 2011 as: City council discusses cuts to police forces, may see rise in crime